Make no mistake, it was Apple’s iPhone that started the post-PC revolution that is in full force today. The iPhone demonstrated that we could be mobile and still connected. We could go online anytime and from anywhere. It was liberating. Mobility became the killer app.
Every cell phone manufacturer worth its salt followed Apple, and today the ability to be online anytime and from anywhere is the norm. We take it for granted.
A watershed event
On January 27, 2010, Steve Jobs walked on stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and announced the first iPad. It was a watershed event. We just didn’t recognize it at the time.
There had been rumors of a tablet from Apple, so no one was completely surprised. The iPad was lightweight and had a larger screen, but, really, wasn’t it just a big iPhone?
The iPad was widely criticized when it was first announced. Newsweek said it was a letdown. Slashdot called it a huge step backward. Gizmodo pointed out eight things that suck about the iPad. WindowsITPro deemed it the iDisappoint. Neowin was even more emphatic, calling it the iFail.
My ah-ha moment
I wanted an iPad when they first came out, but I’m a tech geek so I was supposed to want one. By nature we tech geeks are attracted to shiny objects even if we don’t see the need. But I already had a laptop and an iPhone, so at the time I couldn’t really justify spending the money.
But the geek in me never stopped staring in the store window. I continued to sift through reviews looking for definitive reasons to buy an iPad. I finally took the plunge when the iPad 3 with Retina display came out in May 2012, and I just happened to have some loose change burning a hole in my pocket. The Retina display swayed me, but my first iPad was still somewhat of an impulse buy.
But here’s what I discovered: You don’t think you need an iPad until you own one, and then you realize you can’t live without it.
The iPad Air
Not quite four years since the first iPad was announced, Apple’s latest incarnation is the iPad Air, which is the purest implementation of the iPad idea to date. Thinner, significantly lighter weight, more powerful, with all the other goodness I had come to rely on. I sold my iPad 3 on eBay, and bought the Air.
For me, the extremely powerful, thin and light, iPad Air with the 9.7-inch Retina screen is ideal. Apple shrank the overall form factor, improved the battery life, and installed its A7 64-bit processor for increased power and speed. And all the things I like to do on the iPad—watch movies, read books, listen to music, surf the web, research and write articles, play games, etc.—are not only possible, but downright pleasurable.
Of course, it’s hyperbole to say that you can’t live without an iPad. More accurately, you simply don’t want to live without it.
But is it a real computer?
Is it reasonable to consider an iPad as your next computer purchase, when your old desktop or laptop gives up the ghost?
With the iPad and its treasure-trove of available applications, you can do nearly everything that you can do on a PC. Conversely, while you can do most anything on a computer, there are some things for which a lightweight handheld tablet are actually better suited.
For example, on my last cross-country flight, I used the iPad for nearly the entire six-hour trip. I watched a feature-length HD movie, read 50 pages of a digital book, played multiple games of chess and Spider (an addictive Solitaire-like game), browsed my photo library, read some business-related PDF documents, and wrote a 750-word blog post. When the plane landed, I still had 56% battery life. Try that on a laptop.
Side benefits of traveling with the iPad are that I don’t have to remove it from my carry-on bag while I go through security, and I don’t have to put it away during take-off and landing.
Now, laptops and desktops aren’t going away anytime soon. Steve Jobs once famously referred to desktop and laptop computers as trucks and the iPad as a car. While you can do most things that require motorized transportation with a car, there are some things you need a truck for. There will continue to be applications that require the power of multiple CPUs, large storage drives, mouse and keyboard, and big screens.
But that may be only a matter of time. For an increasing number of users, the iPad might very well be the only computer they’ll ever need.
How about other tablets?
I’m not going to praise or condemn other tablets in this post, as I’ve not personally owned any. I’ve puttered with demo tablets at stores—Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, Microsoft’s Surface, Google’s Nexus—and they each have appealing qualities. The iPad, however, feels better made and has by far the best selection of available tablet-optimized applications.
In addition, Apple makes it extremely easy to update to the latest version of iOS, and, oftentimes, updates bring new and improved functionality to the device.
The proof is in the usability
What is an iPad capable of? You might be surprised. Given over 375,000 iPad-optimized apps from Apple’s App Store, the better question might be what isn’t an iPad capable of? Here is a pretty complete list of the things I do on my iPad:
Browse the internet. The iPad has a great browser (Safari), and can view the vast majority of websites on the Internet. It cannot view Flash-based websites, which is less and less becoming an issue.
Get and send e-mail. I have three different e-mail addresses, one for home, one for cloud, and one for business. I can get e-mail to and send e-mail from all three addresses.
Watch movies. When I’m traveling for business, I usually rent a couple of recent HD movies from iTunes and watch them on the plane.
Create and edit documents. I use Apple’s iCloud Pages application. It is a simpler word processing application than Microsoft Word, but offers pretty much everything I need. It can also import Word documents, if this is a requirement.
Edit photos. With iPhoto, I can crop photos, fix red-eye, adjust exposure and contrast, apply filters, and more. Edited photos automatically get uploaded to my iCloud PhotoStream for viewing on all my other Apple devices, and I can easily send photos by e-mail, or share them on Facebook. There are a host of other photo applications available for iPad, as well.
Keep records. I can use the iPad camera to photograph and store business receipts, prescriptions, etc.
Publish this blog. I use WordPress as my blogging and content management application. There are very good WordPress editors available as iPad apps. Currently, I’m using BlogPad Pro.
Take advantage of the cloud. Since the iPad is an Apple product, it connects seamlessly to iCloud. All of my passwords, bookmarks, websites, contacts, calendars, notes, and music automatically synchronize to my iPad.
Use Apple Maps. The much-maligned Apple Maps app has gotten better and better since it was announced in 2012. It provides reliable turn-by-turn directions, and its large screen is eminently more usable than a phone screen. With my cellular-enabled iPad Air, I can use maps anywhere I can connect to a cell tower, which is pretty much everywhere.
Make video and voice calls. It’s a lot of fun to have video calls with family during the holidays or while I’m on the road. Apple’s FaceTime now even works over cellular, but you do need at least a 4G signal to make it usable. You can also use Skype for video and voice calls when the other party doesn’t have an Apple device.
Take notes. I use a stylus to write notes directly on the iPad, using an app called Sketch Rolls. I also type notes in the iPad’s own Notes app.
Record meetings and interviews. As a technical writer, I have to attend meetings, and interview subject-matter experts, during which times a lot of complex information is discussed. By recording these events, I can revisit parts of the meetings where my hand-written notes are a bit sketchy.
Compose and record music. I use the GarageBand application on the iPad to record song ideas, and cobble together multi-track recordings.
Plug in my electric guitar and play through amp modeling software. With a cable adapter, I can plug an electric guitar right into the iPad, and filter it through digital amp modeling applications. Dialing up Eric Clapton’s sound on Crossroads? No problem.
Communicate with friends and colleagues on Facebook and LinkedIn. Enough said.
Watch streaming video, and also sometimes beam that video to my flat screen TV using Airplay and AppleTV. While on a business trip, it’s nice to be able to watch Netflix or HBO GO while I am in my hotel room.
That’s a list of what I most often do on the iPad, but it only covers a very small percentage of what’s possible. If this sounds like an Apple advertisement, so be it. But there’s no denying that the iPad is an extremely capable computer that you can take with you anywhere. You’re only limited by your imagination with this truly personal computer.
And, as new applications are offered, and Apple continues to refine iOS and build out its ecosystem, the iPad is only going to get better.